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S&S Revives Star Trek Writing Contest, Lets Vanity Press Author Solutions Run It

7472201892_93be6fbbed_hStarting in 1998 and running through 2007, Simon & Schuster published an annual Star Trek anthology consisting of stories by amateur writers.  The stories were selected  through the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds contest,  which was open only to unpublished authors.

This was more or less a contest for fanfic, and according to Wikipedia over the ten year run a lot of writers used it to break into publishing.

And now the contest is back.

It hasn’t gotten much publicity yet, but late last week Simon & Schuster announced (PDF) that it was reviving the writing contest.

Star Trek Strange New Worlds

They’re not, as one might hope, partnering with Amazon and opening a Star Trek Kindle World. Instead S&S is reviving Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as a standalone writing contest.

You can find the contest rules here, but the short version is that S&S wants to publish a new digital-first anthology of Star Trek stories on the occasion of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary next year. They’re looking for ten original stories by ten authors, and while it’s not explicitly stated the contest rules do imply that this contest is aimed at amateurs.

The contest rules exclude certain types of fanfic (Mary Sue, Slash, erotica, etc), but all in all the rules are fairly author friendly compared to some recent writing contests (Amtrak, for example).

But the contest procedures, well, that is a different matter.

Buried down in the fine print is a notice informing applicants that they agree to be contacted by Archway, the vanity press operation that S&S launched in partnership with Author Solutions:

By clicking the button above you consent to Archway contacting you by telephone and/or email and agree your calls may be monitored for quality assurance or business purposes.

And that’s just the beginning. I’ve applied to the contest, and I have received an email with the full instructions on how to submit a manuscript.

According to the email, applicants don’t just have to agree to be contacted by Archway; it’s also where they will be sending their manuscripts. Archway is running the contest, or in other words S&S is using the contest as a feeder pool for its vanity press.

Sure, ten authors are going to get a thousand dollar advance and a publishing contract (and two will get a $5,000 publishing package at Archway), but all the rest of the applicants are going to get cold calls from Author Solutions' telemarketers.

I would recommend that authors not touch this contest with a ten foot pole, and I’m not the only one to feel that way. The Writers Beware blog condemned Archway when it was launched in 2012, and I know they will also condemn this contest once they learn of it.

And they’re not the only one. I heard about the contest from Dean Wesley Smith ( found via The Passive Voice blog). Smith edited ST:SNW every year for its original run, and he has succinctly explained why he won’t touch the new contest:

This will be short and sweet.

  1. No I am not editing or have anything to do with the new Star Trek: Strange New Worlds contest. I have not been asked, even though I edited the first ten. Standard for traditional publishing.
  2. Even if asked, I would not help them in any way because of the two first place prizes which gives some poor, beginning writer without a clue free publication of their non-Star Trek book in one of the vanity presses that Simon and Schuster own. That disgusts me more than I want to think about.
  3. The entire contest, from what a few who got letters told me, is a come-on to beginning writers for their names to be pushed to the vanity presses. Sigh…
  4. AVOID AT ALL COSTS. Write your own stories. In the long run you will be so much better off.

I hope that’s clear.

Sad that such a wonderful project that lasted for ten years is being destroyed by corporation greed and the desire to take advantage of young writers. The Star Trek franchise should be ashamed of itself.

He’s right.

Don’t enter this contest. It’s not a writing contest so much as it is a honey trap designed to find new victims for Simon & Schuster’s vanity press, and it should be avoided like the plague.

And that’s a shame, because S&S could have generated a lot of buzz had they gone into this with different intentions. Fanfic is more popular than it has ever been, and many authors are using it as their first step into writing fiction.

Simon & Schuster could easily fill a dozen anthologies with short stories, and released a new one each month (nay, week). Instead, S&S decided exploitation was the better option.

image by Karen Roe

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Thomas October 13, 2015 um 11:58 pm

I find fanfiction intriguing, but obviously it rests with copyright holders so can only really be utilised by big publishers.

fjtorres October 14, 2015 um 8:14 am

@Thomas: look into Kindle Worlds.
(At a minimum.)
Fanfic isn’t just for big publishers anymore.
Fanfic writers are inspired by all sorts of projects.

Greg Strandberg October 14, 2015 um 1:05 pm

Have you ever gone to a bookstore’s sci-fi section and seen a few shelves on Star Trek and Star Wars?

It’s because of things like this, smart publishers that know allowing fans to work and build and have fun with the world is the way to go.

Kindle Worlds was smart to follow suit with something like this. Alas, I don’t feel it’s worked out for them that well…yet. There’s time.

What was happening in the 90s with this Star Trek stuff was smart marketing, very smart. Too bad we don’t see more.

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